Poetry – The Spider – It’s real – I know it’s waiting for me indoors!

Poetry – The Spider – It’s real – I know it’s waiting for me indoors!

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The Spider

It is that time of year again. The large house spiders are on the move. The big males are off hunting females to mate. They bounce across your carpet, veering and halting unpredictable.

They lurk in the recesses and under everything.

They are huge, dark and hairy. Their bristles are evil.

At night they emerge to climb walls and on to beds.

They appear in bath-tubs and showers.

They also loom even larger in my imagination!

 

I am an entomologist. I should know better. But childhood experiences combine with evolutionary instinct to tell me that these things are dangerous, evil and a malevolent force.

Nothing will persuade me otherwise.

We have a huge one in the house. My wife saw it scurry under the bath.

I know it’s there, somewhere.

The Spider

Malevolently scurrying across the floor,

Scuttling to a standstill, assessing,

Watching with its many eyes,

Weighing up the scene.

Then darting into dark crevices

Impossible to squeeze into

To lurk and plan

Its evil re-emergence.

 

When darkness falls

It is there

Under the cushion

Under the pillow

Brushing the sleeping face

With its bristles

Legs and gnashing mandibles.

Delighting in its success.

 

No web

Or patient wait

For this one.

He is quick

And unpredictable,

Equipped with

Many legs

And a brain

That intends

To terrify.

 

There

When

You

Least

Expect.

Huge

Dark

Hairy

And

Fast.

 

No ordinary spider.

 

Opher 3.9.2015

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Listening to my old Grandma.

Listening to my old Grandma.

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Listening to my old Grandma

My Grandma is long dead but she lived to the fine old age of ninety six. She was born in 1890s and so saw the most amazing changes.

I remember sitting down with her while she reminisced. It was extremely salutary. I was entranced.

As a young girl she had played in the streets. They were untarmaced mud and compacted dirt with ruts made by carts. The transport was horse-drawn or steam train. There were no cars. There was no electricity or running water and only outdoor toilets. The house was heated with a single coal fire in an open grate.

She had watched the first planes, made of string and paper (as she put it), crawl across the skies. She saw the first cars bump along the rutted streets. She lived through two world wars and saw her husband and sons go off to fight for God and Country.

Back then the class system was firmly in place. The poor were poor, the middle class were a little better off and the bosses and aristocracy lived in the mansions. Down her street there was great poverty with families not having money to buy food for the children. Kids were sewn into their clothes for the winter to prevent them developing chills. Some could not afford shoes. Infant mortality was high. Every family lost children to disease induced by poor sanitation, malnutrition, cold and damp and disease. She’d lost a child.

She’s seen a different world come into being. Following the wars the Labour Trade Union movement achieved better standards of pay and conditions, the standard of living for ordinary families rose. Cars, televisions, telephones and computers became standard fare for working families. There was welfare for those on hard times. People could take holidays and travel.

The roads were tarmaced, there were millions of cars, and the pace of life was faster.

The churches emptied and people were openly critical of those in power. They no longer ‘knew their place’. They spoke their mind and were not content to be kept down. The class system was weakened. It was no longer ‘God, King and Country’. They questioned the policies and wisdom.

Technology brought electricity, machines, refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, hoovers and hot water that transformed the drudgery of life. However my Grandma still had her weekly wash and boiled her linen (and sometimes curtains and other items) in a huge copper on the stove. Heaven knows how she managed to do that into her old age.

Women became more educated and entered the professions. They weren’t content to be mere housewives.

My Grandma was incredulous that in her lifetime there had been a change from bi-planes made of wood, paste and lacquered paper to space-stations and space-craft that could go to the Moon.

The social changes were even more dramatic.

I doubt that we will ever see such spectacular changes again.

It is hard to believe that for centuries very little altered. People went along in much the same way their parents and grandparents had done. They wore similar clothes, had similar jobs requiring similar skills and led a life that was much the same as those of generations before. In the 20th Century that changed. The speed of change has been continuous. Our children live in a totally different world. The world of 2015 would have seemed like science fiction to my 1950s self. I could not have imagined it. Computers, mobile phones and the internet would have seemed far-fetched.

My Grandma used to remark that she did not think all this ‘progress’ made anyone happier.

Now the divide is between the ways the West lives and the impoverished lives of many in the third world. Perhaps that is the next revolution?

What world, or should I say solar system, will our grandchildren think of as normal?

 

5.9.2015

Anecdote – Heroin and the guy upstairs.

Anecdote – Heroin and the guy upstairs.

During the late sixties and early seventies I lived in London. I had a bedsit. Upstairs from me was a young guy, we’ll call him Joe, who lived with his partner and liked heroin.

Every now and then he’d go off and score some heroin and, because he didn’t use it regularly and never knew the exact strength as he always got it from different sources, he would occasionally overdose.

There would be a knock on my door and a distraught partner would explain that he had passed out, collapsed on the floor and would I help. I’d send her to the phone for an ambulance, go upstairs and get Joe into a recovery position, check his pulse and breathing and wait for the ambulance.

On one occasion he still had the needle in his ankle, which seemed to be his preferred site for injecting. On another occasion he actually stopped breathing and I had to give him mouth to mouth to get him going again.

The ambulance would arrive. They’d assess the situation, cart him off and within hours he’d be back.

I sat him down and talked to him. I explained that one day I might not be in, the ambulance might be delayed, and that would be it.

He shrugged.

I asked him if it was worth it. It was quite apparent to me that if Joe had sufficient funds he would have bought a bucket of heroin, sat in his arm-chair injecting and nodding off for the rest of his life. I doubt if he would have eaten, drunk or got up to go to he toilet.

He said to me that I shouldn’t knock it until I’d tried it. He explained that it was like some endless orgasm. You were floating on a warm ocean in euphoric peace. Nothing mattered. There were no worries.

He offered me some – just to try.

I declined. The worst that could happen was that I would love it. I did not want to spend my life in a chair.

Anecdote – Danger in the old Manor House – a true story

 

Anecdote – Danger in the old Manor House – a true story

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I don’t believe in ghosts. Yet there are some things that are hard to explain.

When I was nine years old I used to play with a friend of mine who was the same age. We were wild and free and up to all mischief. No tree was safe from our attentions, no stream or pond out of bounds. We’d play tennis and roller-skate in the streets, build dens, tree houses, rafts and go off on our bikes all over town. Our parents never knew what we were up to.

That was the fun of it. We were free. And at nine years of age so grown up that we could handle anything – or could we?

One of the places we’d visit often was a big old deserted manor house. It had a big brick wall around it and great iron gates. The grounds were massive and overgrown. We hide our bikes in the long grass and shin over that wall as if it wasn’t there.

That manor house was massive with hundreds of voluminous echoey rooms, long corridors, big fireplaces, cupboards and great wooden shutters on all the windows. The front door was always open and we’d just go in. We’d run about on the old wooden floors and skid around the long corridors. We’d play hide-and-seek. It was great because all the sound was amplified and bounced back at you. Our voices and laughter boomed around and we’d thunder around the place. It was great fun. Though hide and seek was difficult though. You could always tell where someone was hiding because all the floorboards creaked. It was impossible to go anywhere without being heard.

We knew that we weren’t allowed in the place and we’d get really told off if we were caught but that made it more exciting. And besides, nobody ever came here. It had been empty for years.

It must have been very grand in its day. I remember the downstairs had huge rooms with high decorated ceiling, embellished cornices and pelmets. When you went in through the front door there was a massive staircase that swept round like something out of ‘Gone with the Wind’. We’d charge up and down in like lunatics and try sliding down the curved bannister rail and always fell off.

We’d go upstairs where there was a long corridor with many rooms coming off it. All of the rooms had big cupboards to hide in and were dingy because of the wooden shutters on the dirty windows with their cobwebs and trapped butterflies. That was fun to explore and poke about.

One day we were upstairs in the farthest room when we heard the front door open. We looked at each other with a bolt of fear shooting through us. We knew we’d been making a racket. Somebody had probably heard us and we were for it. We were in trouble. We crept to the big cupboard and stood inside, pulling the door shut so there was just a crack of light and tried our hardest not to move because that made the floorboards creak. But we were good at that. We’d had practice.

We heard footsteps going around downstairs and imagined some man looking round for us, then those heavy footsteps came slowly up the stairs. We stood as still as we could and tried not to breathe. It was dark in the cupboard and we were straining our ears. Every sound was magnified.

We heard the footsteps coming clumping down the corridor. They sounded loud and heavy like some big adult. They weren’t checking all the other rooms but were coming straight for ours. They must have known where we were. They had heard us. All the boards creaked. Those footsteps boomed and sent minor earthquakes through the building before stopping at the doorway to our room.

We held our breath. We could imagine this big man standing there in the doorway listening intently for the slightest sound to find where we were. Our hearts were racing so fast and loud that we were both sure that he would hear it from where he was. The blood was pounding in our ears. Our breath was ragged and impossible to quiet. The tension was unbearable.

There was no sound from out there. Whoever it was standing there in the doorway they were as still as a statue. Not a board creaked. We both could imagine him frozen in the entrance to our room listening intently for the slightest sound that would betray our hiding place.

We hoped and hoped that those footsteps would retreat down that long corridor, that he’d give up and go away. But they didn’t. We stood in the dark for ages.

The fear was too much. At last we could stand it no longer and together we opened the cupboard to give ourselves up.

But there was no one there.

We rushed out, through the empty corridor, down the stairs, out the door, across the grounds, over the wall to grab our bikes and raced away as fast as we could.

We never went back.

Listening to my old Grandma.

Listening to my old Grandma.

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Listening to my old Grandma

My Grandma is long dead but she lived to the fine old age of ninety six. She was born in 1890s and so saw the most amazing changes.

I remember sitting down with her while she reminisced. It was extremely salutary. I was entranced.

As a young girl she had played in the streets. They were untarmaced mud and compacted dirt with ruts made by carts. The transport was horse-drawn or steam train. There were no cars. There was no electricity or running water and only outdoor toilets. The house was heated with a single coal fire in an open grate.

She had watched the first planes, made of string and paper (as she put it), crawl across the skies. She saw the first cars bump along the rutted streets. She lived through two world wars and saw her husband and sons go off to fight for God and Country.

Back then the class system was firmly in place. The poor were poor, the middle class were a little better off and the bosses and aristocracy lived in the mansions. Down her street there was great poverty with families not having money to buy food for the children. Kids were sewn into their clothes for the winter to prevent them developing chills. Some could not afford shoes. Infant mortality was high. Every family lost children to disease induced by poor sanitation, malnutrition, cold and damp and disease. She’d lost a child.

She’s seen a different world come into being. Following the wars the Labour Trade Union movement achieved better standards of pay and conditions, the standard of living for ordinary families rose. Cars, televisions, telephones and computers became standard fare for working families. There was welfare for those on hard times. People could take holidays and travel.

The roads were tarmaced, there were millions of cars, and the pace of life was faster.

The churches emptied and people were openly critical of those in power. They no longer ‘knew their place’. They spoke their mind and were not content to be kept down. The class system was weakened. It was no longer ‘God, King and Country’. They questioned the policies and wisdom.

Technology brought electricity, machines, refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, hoovers and hot water that transformed the drudgery of life. However my Grandma still had her weekly wash and boiled her linen (and sometimes curtains and other items) in a huge copper on the stove. Heaven knows how she managed to do that into her old age.

Women became more educated and entered the professions. They weren’t content to be mere housewives.

My Grandma was incredulous that in her lifetime there had been a change from bi-planes made of wood, paste and lacquered paper to space-stations and space-craft that could go to the Moon.

The social changes were even more dramatic.

I doubt that we will ever see such spectacular changes again.

It is hard to believe that for centuries very little altered. People went along in much the same way their parents and grandparents had done. They wore similar clothes, had similar jobs requiring similar skills and led a life that was much the same as those of generations before. In the 20th Century that changed. The speed of change has been continuous. Our children live in a totally different world. The world of 2015 would have seemed like science fiction to my 1950s self. I could not have imagined it. Computers, mobile phones and the internet would have seemed far-fetched.

My Grandma used to remark that she did not think all this ‘progress’ made anyone happier.

Now the divide is between the ways the West lives and the impoverished lives of many in the third world. Perhaps that is the next revolution?

What world, or should I say solar system, will our grandchildren think of as normal?

 

5.9.2015

Anecdote – Slith the snake meets the taxi driver

Anecdote – Slith the snake meets the taxi driver

Slith the snake

Slith was my pet boa constrictor – all six feet of him.

I bought him on the spur of the moment for £40 that I really could not afford. But he came complete with vivarium. It was a bargain really.

Slith had had an interesting life in the entertainment industry. It appears that large snakes have some erotic import in the glamour industry. Slith had adorned the naked bodies of many lithesome ladies. There are probably a number of his photographs out there in cyberspace.

Slith liked people though he was not so keen on some women. He bit two of them. We think it was the perfume but perhaps it was a throw-back to his past life in the erotic industry?

Slith had to be fed on live mice.

The first time we did this we introduced the mouse into the vivarium and watched with interest. Slith coiled up around his branch and watched the hapless unaware creature. He flicked his tongue out to scent the animals. Then in a flash it was gone. The mouse was dead with a bite to the back of the neck and was wrapped in a powerful coil of snake.

We were relieved that it was so quick and painless. We were concerned that it was so quick that you did not see the strike. That made us nervous.

Slith was strong. If he wanted I reckon he could have broken your arm or strangled you. But fortunately he was friendly.

You always knew when he was getting annoyed; he’d move his head from side to side. He was sighting up for a strike. Whatever you were doing; you stopped.

He liked warmth and would often get out of his cage to wrap himself around the old wrought-iron radiator. Once he was wrapped around it you couldn’t prise him off. Once we found him coiled up in our bed. That gave us a bit of a start.

One of Slith’s favourite past-times was motor-bike riding; he could not actually ride one, of course, but he would wrap himself around me and I’d take him for a spin around London. He’d always hold his head up next to mine and face forward into the breeze. The faster I went the more he stretched out into the wind. He loved it.

I remember once pulling up alongside a London cabbie. He had his window open and looked over to find Slith peering at his from a foot away, his tongue flicking out. I’ve never seen a window go up as quick.

I put Slith with a friend while we went off on our travels. Unfortunately he bit someone and our friend gave him away.

Anecdote – Joey my crow

Anecdote – Joey my crow

fledgling_crows_by_igormoiseev-d34swai Round my way they used to poke crows. That’s how I got Joey. In order to cull the crows they would go along to the rookery with great long poles that reached right up to the top of the trees. They would poke the nests and knock fledglings out. Tony and I went along after and found two live fledglings. They were the ugliest things you could imagine with their transparent saggy skin and no feathers but we thought they were great. We took them home.

The little birds needed feeding two hourly. We mixed up this goo of egg, milk and bread. You put a lump on your finger and when you approached Joey would stretch out, flap his rudimentary wings, open his beak wide and squawk loudly. You simply shove the goo down his throat. Every now and then we’d give him worms or bits of bacon. Our birds thrived on it.

School was a problem. We got round that by taking them in. We thought that our teachers might take a dim view but fortunately we had those big old wooden desks in our form-room. We made a little nest out of paper and plonked them in. When you shut the lid it was dark inside and they went to sleep. At break and lunch we opened the lid and to everyone’s amazement they would squawk and clamor and we’d cram the paste down their throats. You shut the lid and they were silent. Our class thought it was great.

Many other kids sat at our desks without ever knowing our crows were inside. We did it for weeks and never got caught.

I named my crow Joey. He grew into a fine handsome affectionate crow with inky black feathers with a lovely blue sheen. I kept him in my shed. Every morning and when I got home from school I’d go and get him. He’d jump straight on my shoulder and nibble my ear.

I taught Joey to talk. Well he could say twelve words. When I went in to him he’d squawk ‘Hello’. He could say his name. He was quite clear.

I had to teach Joey to fly. I’d take him into the garden and throw him into the air. He’d flap to the ground and crash. Gradually he got the idea and would go off flying round and sit on the roof. He’d always come back and land on my shoulder.

I lost Joey when I went off to camp for two weeks leaving my Mum in charge. While she was out shopping someone came round. They’d lost their pet crow and heard I’d got one in the shed. They thought it might be theirs. They went down the bottom of the garden and opened the shed. Joey flew out. My Mum said that he sat around on the roof for over a week but she couldn’t entice him down. She said he was looking for me.

By the time I got home he’d gone. I never saw him again.

I hope he met up with a nice lady crow and impressed her with his line in sweet-talk. His descendants are probably squawking ‘Joey’ up in the trees right now. Either that or he was rejected, mobbed and killed.

Anecdote – Eight years old and lost on the London Underground

Anecdote – Eight years old and lost on the London Underground

Walton and Hersham were a very second rate football team. They played in the Ishmium League, whatever that is, and I used to go along with a group of friends from my estate because they might have been second-rate but they were our team. Most of the crew who met up at the ground were older boys. Walton was never going to be a big club – we won some and we lost some, and dribbled along. It was even clear to we small lads that we were nothing special and not destined to amount to much. That didn’t matter. They were still our team and we had allegiance. Besides, I was only eight. There were more important things.

Then a miracle happened; we won a few matches in the FA Cup and we were drawn against the mighty Hammers from the 1st Division. West Ham was a top team and this draw caused a great deal of excitement. Walton and Hersham were going to play at Upton Park, a first division venue. It was extremely exciting.

Plans were drawn up. A group of the bigger boys were going all the way up to London to support Walton. It was quite an adventure. Of course I wanted to go. After much wheedling my mum agreed. She made the older boys promise to look after me.

We set off on the train. We arrived at Waterloo and transferred to the Tube. I’d never been on a Tube train before. We were having a great time. Everything was new. Even our sandwiches tasted special. We arrived at Upton Park. I couldn’t see a thing because I was tiny and we were at the back. All I could see was the backs of the men in front of me. But the atmosphere was brilliant. The noise and the way they all surged forward every time the ball came up our end, the chanting and hand-clapping. It was all very tribal, primitive and dangerous. You could smell the hormones as you were crushed in the throng. All those minds were locked in together with one focus. It set the pulse racing.

Of course, we were soundly beaten but that was exactly what we had expected. We knew we didn’t have a gnat pee in a hurricane of a chance. That’s not why we had gone. We’d gone to soak up that atmosphere and feed it into our dreams. It was an experience.

After the match it took us a while getting out of the ground and we were late. We had to run. We had to make it back to Waterloo to catch our train.

I remember running along in the subway trying to keep up with the older boys. They kept urging me to go faster but I only had short, little legs. At the top of the last flight of stairs we could hear the underground train pull in with a big swoosh of air. The boys ran like mad and leapt down the stairs with me pelting along on their heels. They bounded across the platform and jumped on board. As I got there, a few seconds behind, the doors slid shut with me out there stranded on the platform. It was one of those frozen moments. I stared at them in horror as the doors clunked. At the window of the door I could see all the faces of the boys peering back out at me. Their faces mirrored mine but no amount of anguish was going to open those doors and with a squeal the train slid away.

I stood there in disbelief with my mind racing. I didn’t have a clue what to do. I didn’t know where I was going or how I was going to get there. I was utterly lost. I was eight years old, on an underground platform in the bowels of London, a long, long way from home. Then the tears started.

A man came across and asked me what was wrong. Between sobs I managed to tell him what had happened.
He very kindly took care of me, calmed me down and reassured me that my friends would be waiting for me at the next station.  I was not so sure. He calmly took me on the next train. We went along with me distraught and him reassuring me. I thought I’d never see them again. But sure enough at the next platform and there were my friends. They were as worried as me. They thought I was lost forever and they’d get the blame. They’d got off the train and were in a hopeless dilemma as to what they should do. They weren’t sure whether to wait and hope I’d be on the next train or to come back for me.

I rushed out and we all had a great reunion with much shouting and clamour. I’m not even sure if I thanked the kind gentleman who’d rescued me. He’d been an angel. I still feel guilty. But I was in such a state.

It didn’t matter anymore; we’d been reunited. I did not have to spend the rest of my life wandering the London underground. I had been saved.

 

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The Colonel, the Squat and the National Front – a true story

The Colonel, the Squat and the National Front

Back in 1970 Pete, my best mate, and I returned to college for our second year. Somehow, despite the hundreds of concerts, the Sci-fi novels that required reading, the friends that had to be entertained, the music that begged to be listened to and other essential business, we had managed to pass the exams (with a retake or two for me). With our usual meticulous planning and panache we turned up on the first day expecting everything to fall into place. It went as could have been predicted. We couldn’t find a room to rent and found ourselves on the streets. After a night in a phone box, which I can assure you does not make for a comfortable sleep, we headed off to the Students Union to seek help. Apparently there were no digs available. They kindly directed us to a squat on Ilford High Street. It was an empty shop. We were instructed to do a secret knock on the door and ask for ‘The Colonel’.

We found the place and performed his intricate knock that made me feel like one of the Goons in that sketch where they had to do a thousand knocks on the door.

We must have got the convoluted pattern right because after a while there was shuffling the other side and a voice, in a strong Scottish brogue, asked suspiciously who it was. We explained who we were, who had sent us and that we were to ask for ‘The Colonel’.

We stood in the road as a great deal of clanking and shifting took place the other side of the door. It opened a slot and a rheumy eye looked us up and down. Seemingly content, despite the long hair and brightly coloured clothes, he ascertained we were no threat, we weren’t the fascist National Front; we were students. The door then opened to reveal a middle-age man with grey hair, a clipped moustache and big eyebrows. He was wearing a kilt. He ushered us in quickly and we passed through the door into a dim stairwell. The cause of the clanking was immediately obvious. Above the door was suspended a huge body of metallic junk with everything from bike frames to parts of prams. It must have weighed a ton. Anyone forcing their way in would have had the whole lot descending on their head. The Colonel was prepared for bother. He wasn’t a Colonel for nothing. There was strategic planning evident.

Welcome to the squat.

The squat was the Colonel’s home but he kindly operated as a temporary residence for the dispossessed. There were quite a lot of them around in the East End of London at that time. Rachman, the gangster landlord, was still in operation, frightening people out of their homes and taking over the places to charge extortionate rents and pack in immigrants. He was making a fortune out of the misery of others.

The squat had a number of rooms. The Colonel had the front room. He was a Colonel from a Highland regiment and received his pension weekly. It was soon apparent as to why he was living in a squat and what he was spending his pension on.

In one of the other rooms there was a young couple with a three month old baby. They looked terrified and tearful. It later transpired that they had been targeted by Peter Rachman. They had been renting a room in a house that the Landlord wanted. They been told to go but as they did not have anywhere to go to, had ignored the warnings. One morning a bunch of goons arrived while the young man was out looking for a job. They had broken in, smashed up all their possessions, including the baby’s cot, and thrown everything out the window into the garden. They’d escorted mother and baby out to the street, threatened them with baseball bats and then proceeded to smash the stairs with a sledge-hammer so nobody could get back up.

No wonder the family were terrified. They’d rescued what they could of baby clothes and possessions and ended up at ‘The Colonel’s’.

Pete and I were shown into a bare room with filthy floorboards. I put my new cream-coloured ankle-length sheepskin coat on the floor as cushioning (I never got it clean again) and unrolled my sleeping bag on top of it. Pete unrolled his on the bare boards. We were home.

We all gathered in the Colonels big room that overlooked Ilford High Street, talked and watched the shoppers from on high. On Friday the Colonel received his pension and proceeded to blow it on scotch whiskey which he drank from an old chipped white enamel mug with a blue rim. The more he consumed the merrier he got and then would serenade us with song. He had an amazing ability to add ‘Ne’ to the end of every word.

One song stands out:

‘Wunderbarne’

‘Meinne Pretyne Wunderbarne’.

It was quite a feat and we were all struck dumb with admiration, or at least we were struck.

One Saturday morning we were subjected to a protest by the National Front against squatters. I bet Rachman was behind it. A huge threatening mob of Nazi’s appeared in the High Street, chanting, making Hitler salutes, pointing up at us and making threats. Seemingly they weren’t keen on squatters. Between this menacing mob, who were busy working themselves up into a frenzy, and us was a thin line of police. It was getting extremely violent and explosive as the mob grew to a hundred or so and the fury mounted. It began to look as if the handful of police were going to be swamped and we were going to end up as mincemeat. In hindsight this probably wasn’t helped by Pete and I sitting in the window with our feet on the shop front that jutted out below us, waving to, and mocking, the obnoxious fascist skinheads who did not seem at all pacified by a couple of long-haired freaks grinning down at them. Peace and love were not in their repertoire. They were baying for blood.

The furore eventually abated and somehow the police managed to keep them from storming the place.

We were only there for three weeks before finding a room but it was an experience.

The week following our departure the Colonel was arrested for indecent exposure.

One Saturday morning he had been partaking of his Scottish elixir of life and decided it was a good idea to demonstrate his vocal skills to the Saturday morning shoppers. He’d clambered out of the window on to the shop front, mug in hand, and proceeded to serenade the shoppers below with renditions all most likely based around the magic syllable ‘ne’.

The shoppers were not as enthralled as we had been. One of the ‘disgusted’ ladies had reported the event to the police. By standing on the front of the shop the Colonel had clearly revealed to all and sundry exactly what Scotsmen wear under their kilts. At least one of them thought it wasn’t a pretty sight. The inflamed ladies of Ilford achieved what the National Front could not and the squat was shut down.

Joey my Crow

Joey my Crow

 

Round where I was growing up they used to poke crows. That’s how I came by my pet crow Joey.

In order to cull the crows they would go along to the rookery with great long poles that reached right up to the top of the trees. They would poke the nests and knock the fledglings and eggs out.

My friend Tony and I went along after the pokers had gone and found two live fledglings. They were the ugliest things you could imagine with their transparent saggy skin, bulbous bellies and no feathers but we thought they were great. We took them home.

The little birds needed feeding every two hours. We mixed up this thick goo of egg, milk and bread. I would put a dollop of this paste on my finger and when I approached him Joey would stretch out, flap his rudimentary little wing stubs, open his beak wide and squawk loudly. He thought I was his Mum. I simply shoved the paste down his throat. Every now and then I would give him worms or bits of bacon to vary his diet. Both our birds seemed to thrive on it.

School was a problem. The teachers were not very understanding as to regarding the feeding necessities of crows and we doubted that they would be amenable to letting us out of class every two hours to go home to feed them. We got round that by taking our birds into school. As we thought that our teachers might take a dim view of us bringing our baby crows into school we simply did not tell them. Fortunately we had those big old wooden desks in our form-room which were quite deep and had lids. We were supposed to keep our books in them but ours were empty so we used them for crow rearing.

We made little nests out of paper and plonked the crows in. When you shut the lid it was dark inside and they went to sleep. At break and lunch we opened the lid and to everyone’s amazement they would squawk and clamour and we’d cram the egg and milk paste down their throats. It was magic. You shut the lid and they were silent. It was like turning the light on and off. Our classmates thought it was great and not one of them spragged to the teachers about it.

It amuses me to think that many other kids sat at those desks in the course of the day without ever knowing our crows were inside. They might have had quite a shock if they’d lifted those lids – but nobody ever did.

We did it for weeks, until our crows were fully grown, and never got caught.

I named my crow Joey. He grew into a fine handsome affectionate crow with inky black feathers that had a lovely blue sheen. When he was an adult I kept him in my shed. Every morning, and when I got home from school, I would go down to the shed and get him. He’d jump straight on my shoulder and nibble my ear.

I taught Joey to talk. Well he could say twelve words. When I went in to him he’d squawk ‘Hello’. He could say his name ‘Joey’. He was quite clear in his pronunciation.

I had to teach Joey to fly. I’d take him into the garden and throw him into the air. He’d flap to the ground and crash. Gradually he caught on to the idea and then the progress was rapid and he’d enjoy flying round and then sit on the roof. He’d always come back and land on my shoulder though.

One day I took him out front for a fly round somewhere different.

We had a neighbour called Mrs Drain who was very house-proud. She had a red tiled doorstep that she used to get on her knees and polish every single day. Joey saw her down below and decided she would make a good perch so he landed on her back.

It gave her such a fright. He was very big and heavy and had sharp claws. She wasn’t expecting a big bird to suddenly land on her. She jumped up with Joey hanging on to her and ran screaming down the road. Joey dug his claws in and flapped his wings. I can still picture her running back and forth shouting at the top of her voice with Joey clinging on for dear life.

She eventually forgave me.

I lost Joey when I went off to camp for two weeks leaving my Mum in charge. One day, while she was out shopping a man came round. He had lost his pet crow and heard from one of our neighbours that I had a crow in my shed. He thought it might be his crow. He knocked on the door but nobody was home. So he went down the bottom of the garden and opened the shed. Joey flew out.

My Mum said that Joey sat around on the roof for over a week but she couldn’t entice him down. She told me he was looking for me.

By the time I got home he’d gone. I never saw him again.

I hope he met up with a nice lady crow and impressed her with his line in human sweet-talk. She would have been sure to be impressed. My hope is that Joey’s descendants are squawking up in the trees right now, discussing the great god who had given life to their forebear by feeding him with the gooey elixir of life.

So if you hear a murder of crows up in the trees squawking something that sounds like ‘Joey’ or ‘Hello’, please let me know.